2004 Conference Proceedings

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Jon Gunderson, Ph.D.
Dan Linder, M.S.
Sid Cammeresi, M.S.
Division of Rehabilitation - Education Services
College of Applied Life Students
University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign
1207 S.Oak Street, Champaign, IL 61820

The Web Accessibility Wizard for Microsoft Office provides a means to create accessible HTML versions of Office documents without the author having knowledge of web technologies or web accessibility guidelines. The wizard automatically generates accessible markup by default and prompts the users for additional information only when information is needed to generate proper text equivalents. The Wizard supports the automatic creation of text equivalents for common Office objects like pie and bar charts. Currently the tool supports both Power Point and Word documents. The HTML markup generated exceeds current Section 508 requirements and meets W3C Web Content Accessibility Requirements Double-A conformance.

Microsoft Office is popular program for creating and showing instructional materials in higher education. Many instructors use Microsoft Office for creating and presenting their lecture materials for courses they are teaching. With the wide spread use of the web to make course materials available to students, many instructors are publishing course materials created with Microsoft Power Point presentations and Word documents using the built-in Web publishing commands of Office. The default Office web conversion features for Power Point generate a proprietary XML format that can only be viewed with Internet Explorer. The instructor can reconfigure Power Point to generate HTML that can be rendered by other browsers, like Netscape Navigator and Opera, but with less flexibility in rendering than the XML version. Instructors find the convenience of the publishing feature greatly reduces the time needed to prepare instructional materials for the web.

Most instructors do not understand web accessibility and therefore the accessibility of the materials generated will be directly related to how well the Office conversion process supports accessibility. In current versions of Office there is little if any support for web accessibility. It is not only important for web accessibility to be part of the conversion process, but it needs to be part of the default conversion process. This is especially important for students with disabilities to have access to instructional material at the same time as other students. If authors need to do something different for students with disabilities, they will be less likely to get the materials they need at the same time as other students.

The built-in XML/HTML publishing features of Power Point to do not provide the instructor with the ability to generate accessible web materials. For example the instructor has no way to include long descriptions for images, charts, tables and diagrams. The markup only supports a graphical rendering of the presentation and users have little control over the styling of the resulting materials. The Web Accessibility Wizard for Microsoft Office is designed to provide the same ease of publishing features as the current built-in web publishing features of Office, but automatically guide and automate the generation of text equivalents for slide information with graphical content which is required to create accessible web content. In addition it provides the user with options for viewing the material in either a graphical or a text view using accessible navigation methods and CSS technologies for styling the presentation. The generation of multiple views of the same information is in contrast to the current design philosophy of creating one resource to try to fit all needs, which is dominate mode of thinking in creating print materials. But the electronic world is not bound by the economies of the printing press, the cost of a few extra bits on server for parallel representations of the same information is usually very small. By generating multiple views of the same information all students, including students with disabilities, have more choices of viewing the information.

Goal of the Web Accessibility Wizard
The goal of the Web Accessibility Wizard is to provide an alternative to the built-in web publishing features of Microsoft Office and generate accessible web content by default based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines [1] Double-A requirements which exceed the Section 508 Web Accessibility Requirements[2]. A major part of generating accessible content is supporting the instructor in creating text equivalents for graphical information within Office Documents. The wizard generates valid HTML 4.01 web pages that provide parallel graphical and text views of each slide in a Power Point presentation or a structured text view of Word documents. The generation of accessible HTML supports the concept of interoperability of the web, since both mainstream and specialized browsers for people with disabilities can render the resulting HTML markup.

There are several ways that the wizard supports the generation of accessible HTML. The first is to generate standard structured markup of the Office document. Second is to automatically generate alternative equivalents for certain types of graphical content defined by the instructor when they created the document. This includes information like charts, tables and diagrams that were created using the built-in Office authoring features. In this case the instructor doesn't need to manually generate text equivalents, because they can be generated automatically from the information the instructor has already provided in creating the slide content. Third, instructors sometimes use images imported from other programs or scanned in from photographs as part of their PPT presentations and in this case alternative equivalents cannot be automatically generated for the images. The tool then guides the instructor in creating the correct alternative equivalent of the image based on how the image is used in the document.

Table 1: Summary of the Types Alternatives Generated for Different Types of Images
Type of Image Alternatives Required
Decorative Image Short description of image
Informative Image Short and long description of image
Chart Chart title and label/value pairs for the data in the chart
Table Table title, row and column labels, and table data

Supporting the Instructor in Manually Creating Text Equivalents for Slides
In the case the instructor has included an image in a presentation and the wizard does not have access to the original information used to generate the image, the instructor must manually enter the information for the text equivalent. In this case the tool prompts the instructor [Screen Shot 1] to ask them if the image is a decorative image, an informative image, a data chart or a data table. See Table 1 for a summary of the types of text equivalents needed for different types of images. If the image is a decorative image the user is only required to enter a short description of the image that will serve as the ALT text for the image. If the image is informative, the instructor is asked to not only provide a short description, but also to provide a longer description of the image. The longer description should describe the information the instructor hoped the image would convey to somebody who could see the image. If the image is a bar or pie chart the instructor is prompted with a dialog box to enter the title of the table, and the label/data pairs of each bar in a bar chart or slice of a pie chart [Screen Shot 2]. The wizard will then generate a properly formatted data table as the text equivalent. The instructor doesn't need to know any HTML to generate the text alternative, they only need to know the label/data pairs. In the case of an image of a data table the user is prompted with a dialog to identify the number of data rows and columns in the table, the title of the table, labels for the header cells of the table and the corresponding data for each data cell in the table. By removing the requirement that the instructor know HTML and accessible design practices the wizard greatly simplifies the process of converting a Office documents into accessible web versions. The resulting document meets the needs of all users, including people with disabilities.

picture of computer screen showing how to select the type of image description
Screen Shot 1: Selecting the type of image description required

picture of computer screen showing how to enter summary information
Screen Shot 2: Entering summary information

picture of computer screen showing how to enter label/value pairs for a chart
Screen Shot 3: Entering label/value pairs for a chart

Current Status of the Tool
Version one of the Web Accessibility Wizard is already available as of October 2003. This new version uses Microsofts .NET technology and will be built to support XML representations of documents. The XML representation of office documents will differ from the current Microsoft XML representations created using the Microsoft built-in publish to the web features. The wizard will use XML to create a structured representation of the content of the Office document. For examples, the current Microsoft representation of a Power Point document is designed to only support only a graphical rendering of the slides. The wizards representation of the Power Point slides is rendering neutral, allowing the XML to be transformed (using XSLT) to graphical and text representations that use the accessibility features of HTML. These views can be linked and published as parallel representations of the same content. This gives all users a choice on how they want to view slide content. Providing users with choices in viewing information is one of the most powerful features of the web. The tool also creates accessible content by default, rather than by exception which occurs in other authoring tools. Most authoring tools require the author to be knowledgeable about accessible design practices and requires them to learn how to use the features of the tool to create accessible content. This can be a time consuming and frustrating task since many authoring tools make it difficult or impossible to create accessible web materials even when the author is knowledgeable about accessible design practices.

More information and a downloadable version of the Web Accessibility Wizard for Microsoft Office can be found at the following web site: http://cita.rehab.uiuc.edu/software/office

Current support for the project comes from National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research (Grant #H133G030079), the UIUC Division of Rehabilitation - Education Services, and the UIUC College of Applied Life Studies. Previous support for this project came from the Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (NIDRR grants H133E980008 and H133E990006), Illinois Board of Higher Education, and the Great Lakes Disability Technical Assistance Center at University of Illinois Chicago (NIDRR Grant H133D010203).

[1] Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0

[2] Section 508 Web Content Accessibility Requirements

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